The truth behind Fargo's 'true story'

Fargo co-stars Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi
Fargo co-stars Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi

Fargo made its TV debut in the same way as it did on cinema screens in 1996: with the words, "This is a true story". The Coen brothers' modern classic certainly has a plot that is stranger than fiction - pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson stumbles upon a criminal stuffing his partner's body into a wood chipper while investigating five murders that stem from a ransom-raising kidnapping gone wrong. But that is all it ever was: fiction.

Because the opening explanation is an untruth ("The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred"). But, in the internet dawn of 1996, only a handful of critics decided to check whether such a crime had happened in Minnesota less than a decade earlier. So the myth that Fargo's brutally violent plot really did happen pervaded.

The Coens stuck to the story during the promotion of their film, too. In an interview with Premiere in March 1996, Joel is quoted saying: "we wanted to try something based on a real story, and tell it in a way that was very pared down", before adding that the script was "pretty close" to the actual event.

Frances McDormand in FargoCredit - AP
Frances McDormand in FargoCredit - AP

However, his brother Ethan revealed the truth behind the 'true story' in the introduction to Fargo's published screenplay, the closing sentence of which read: "[the film] aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true."

The closest Fargo's plotline ever got to real life was in 2001, when an office worker from Tokyo named Takako Konishi was found dead in a snowy field outside of Detroit Lakes in Minnesota. Her death was ruled as a suicide, after Konishi was found to have suffered depression from being fired from her job and found to have overdosed on sedatives.

In the weeks before she died, Konishi had arrived in Minneapolis and travelled to Bismarck and Fargo because they were places she had visited with her lover. However, a misunderstanding between Konishi and the Bismarck police encouraged a theory that she was looking for the money that Steve Buscemi's character, Carl Showalter, had hidden in Fargo.

The media inflated this, suggesting that Konishi had died during her supposed quest. A further twist emerged when a film was made about Konishi by Paul Berczeller. He called it This Is a True Story.